China will allow popular online game World of Warcraft to be relaunched for some players in the country after weeks offline, but it will still require changes to objectionable game content.
The game will be allowed to restart operations on July 30, nearly two months after its downtime began, but only previously registered players will be allowed to play, state media said late Tuesday.
World of Warcraft initially went offline while Blizzard Entertainment, the game's creator, switched local operators to Chinese Internet company NetEase. But China requires new operators of foreign online games to apply for a license and submit the games for content screening. World of Warcraft will not be allowed a full relaunch until that process is completed.
China's cultural ministry, which performs part of the government review, has approved the game's content, according to an entry that appeared on its Web site this week.
But the government agency in charge of regulating print and online publications found some content during its checks that it will require Blizzard or NetEase to modify. The game will have to be resubmitted for approval after the changes are made, an employee at the agency, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), said by phone earlier this week. He declined to estimate when the game will receive approval or to say what content must be changed.
But GAPP will allow World of Warcraft to open up for "internal testing" while the content changes are still in progress, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing an unnamed GAPP official.
Players who already have accounts will be allowed to play the game starting late next week, but new players will be barred from signing up until the game gets final clearance, the report said. NetEase will not be allowed to charge subscription fees during that period, which is meant to ensure a smooth transition of user data from the operator switch, the official was cited as saying.
It was not immediately clear if NetEase would conduct the partial relaunch, which the report only said would be permitted. Blizzard and NetEase did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
World of Warcraft is among the most popular online games in China. Many young males play the game for hours or nights at a time in Internet cafes with friends. Local media put the game's number of Chinese players at 5 million, over 40 percent of the number of global subscribers Blizzard reported at the end of last year.
The game's Chinese players greeted the government measure with a mix of celebration and skepticism in online forums, showing the potential strains on its user base caused by the downtime.
"My heart has died," one user wrote in a forum run by local portal Tencent. "What is the point in testing?"
At one point during the downtime, the flood of Chinese users temporarily playing on the Taiwanese server caused hour-long waits to log into the game, according to local media.
Past changes made to the game in response to Chinese government demands have included changing skeletons to characters with normal human bodies.